Aug. 11, 2008

The Continuous Life

by Mark Strand

What of the neighborhood homes awash
In a silver light, of children hunched in the bushes,
Watching the grown-ups for signs of surrender,
Signs that the irregular pleasures of moving
From day to day, of being adrift on the swell of duty,
Have run their course? O parents, confess
To your little ones the night is a long way off
And your taste for the mundane grows; tell them
Your worship of household chores has barely begun;
Describe the beauty of shovels and rakes, brooms and mops;
Say there will always be cooking and cleaning to do,
That one thing leads to another, which leads to another;
Explain that you live between two great darks, the first
With an ending, the second without one, that the luckiest
Thing is having been born, that you live in a blur
Of hours and days, months and years, and believe
It has meaning, despite the occasional fear
You are slipping away with nothing completed, nothing
To prove you existed. Tell the children to come inside,
That your search goes on for something you lost—a name,
A family album that fell from its own small matter
Into another, a piece of the dark that might have been yours,
You don't really know. Say that each of you tries
To keep busy, learning to lean down close and hear
The careless breathing of earth and feel its available
Languor come over you, wave after wave, sending
Small tremors of love through your brief,
Undeniable selves, into your days, and beyond.

"The Continuous Life" by Mark Strand from New Selected Poems. © Alfred A. Knopf, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of playwright Fernando Arrabal, (books by this author) born in Melilla, Spanish Morocco (1932). When he was a child, the brutal Spanish Civil War began, and his mother and father took opposing political sides. His mother sided with the Fascists of Franco's regime and even prevented her son from listening to "dangerously" democratic BBC radio programming, and his father—once a military officer—sided with the Republicans. His father was captured and sentenced to death, but this was later commuted to 30 years of imprisonment. He eventually escaped and was never seen by his family again. Arrabal's mother, furious at her husband's perceived betrayal and ignorance, told their children that he had been killed.

When he was 16, Arrabal discovered from official documents the truth about his father's sentence and that his father had survived. He was so angry with his mother that he refused to speak to her again, even though he lived at home under the same roof with her for the next five years. He had begun writing plays in Spain and won a couple of awards for his work; and when he was 23, he received a fellowship from the French Embassy to study drama in Paris. He moved there without much clothing but with plenty of manuscripts, and soon after discovered he was extremely ill with tuberculosis, and he spent the next two years in a sanitarium. This enforced leisure gave him ample time to write, and he was productive during that time. After he recovered, he went to work for a publishing company in Paris, which published many of the works he had written. He became known writing plays of 'theater of the absurd' style, and also for ones of an abstract style he developed and called 'panic art'—the most famous example of which is his play The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria (1967), in which the characters on stage exchange personalities as the performance progresses.

He was arrested on a visit to Spain after he gave an autograph there that was deemed blasphemous. He had written in a fan's book an inscription that cursed "God, country, and all the rest." He spent nearly a month in prison waiting for his hearing, and during the trial, he claimed he'd written "Patra" (his cat's nickname) and not "patria" (the Spanish word for country). Fortunately for Arrabal, his handwriting in that particular inscription was somewhat illegible, and the court could not conclude for sure that there was indeed an "i" there in that word—and so he was acquitted from what would have been a 16-month prison sentence.

He wrote a play based on his prison experience entitled And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers (1969), and it was banned in France, Belgium, and Sweden. American theaters produced it, however, and Arrabal gained some fame in the United States, where New York theaters also started staging several other of his plays.

He's written more than 60 plays, and his works have been performed in more than 20 languages. He said, "I identify with all my characters. I see myself as a reflection. My plays exalt me like the exaltation of orgasm. I do not write for shock, but what I write is an imitation of nature and of the senses. I write plays in order to live more intensely."

And, "I am no Sartre. In my plays I put my dreams, my fears, my thoughts. I have no politics except that I am against tyrants."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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